Monday, April 16, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Flood Francis J Clarke

I'm taking a break from pumping water out of my basement, being a bit tired of lifting and dumping the wet/dry vac. It started when I got home from the race and continued until I fell asleep exhausted, then started as soon as I woke up. It really sucks.

On the other hand, we did finish the 2007 Bethel Spring Series. The last race took place yesterday, April 15th, the race being the Circuit Francis J Clarke. The race would break a number of records, probably not the ones you want to break.

First off, it rained pretty hard. Not a TV watcher (don't even bother getting cable) nor a radio listener (MP3's or CD's for me), I didn't get a touch of the hype surrounding this "Next Great Storm" until Saturday when my other half mentioned something about this crazy weather coming up.

What? It's 52 and sunny. And it's April.

Well we better have a lot of fricken May flowers because there was one doozy of an April shower Sunday. The kicker is that it'll rain on and off for the whole week.

I always tell people "Snow, ice, and lightning cancel races. Rain won't."

I mean, c'mon, a little rain? Whaddaya a wimp? We in New England are the American Flahutes! We race on dirt roads! We bundle up and ride in weather those tanned California riders wouldn't consider skiing in! We 'cross in 15 degree snowstorms!

Ok I don't 'cross. And I ride a trainer inside most of the time. But when it's race day, it's race day.

Apparently Central Park got 5.5 inches of rain (14 cm for you metric folks). You'd be hard pressed to find a stem that could reach air from under all that water. The previous record? A paltry 1.8 inches.

And wind. I naively thought things would be pretty calm based on the 16 mph winds forecast by The wind ended up gusting pretty hard - 40 or 50 mph.

So in the morning, I got up, jumped in the pre-packed van, and drove up to Bethel. Not bad at all. A light drizzle.

It all went downhill from there.

The 65 (!) missed calls between 9:30 PM Saturday and about 7 AM Sunday (I turned the phone off between those times) was one indication things were out of whack. When I looked up from my phone and said "65 missed calls", everyone standing in the tent piped up "One of them was me!"

Another was that two and a half hours my phone was dead from all the incoming calls - apparently if you turn off the ringer, the phone still lights up. My phone couldn't take too much of that. I had to use my work cell to update the messages.

We used tie-down straps to anchor the tent to the van and a Land Cruiser, two of only a few vehicles at the course that exceeded 5400 pounds in weight. I don't know if it helped but the tents didn't fly away. During the day we even "redeployed" the Land Cruiser to position it in a more advantageous spot (wind side of tent).

We melted another hole in a tent side when the wind blew it in so far it hit the heater (we're up to about five now). For most of the Masters race I was holding onto the tent to keep one end from lifting. The wind was so severe that we had to figure out a way to break down the tents without flying away.

Yet we raced.

It was the last race of the Series. We didn't have the option to postpone as we would have had to file a permit and all that for the next Sunday. And it wasn't snowing, icy, or lightning. So the race went on.

The Jonathan Adler team showed up in an RV and managed to upload live reports of the race from some wireless connection. They are pretty funny in a grim way:

"Live Update from Bethel
Apr 15,2007 by anonymous
Men's 40+
The group is all together again. All 6 of them.
It's 80 degrees and sunny.

Live Update from Bethel
Apr 15,2007 by anonymous
Women's Race:
10:49:27 AM
A break of two, including the race series leader, has a 00:00:56 gap to the peoloton, which consists of two riders. "

Those numbers are about right. Our largest field was either the Cat 5's (20) or the 3/4's (I don't know but it was "big"). The 5's had three teams representing their overall contenders and had quite a race. The 4's had 19 and a proper race. The women had four and every overall place was guaranteed - it was simply a matter of who took what place that day. The fact that three were on one team meant the lone woman on another team was SOL. She took third though. The Juniors - well, the three that showed up discussed their overall, agreed they were happy with the places, and collectively entered the 3/4's. So there was no Junior field. The Masters had six, and three of them were from one team. Three teams dominated the 3/4's and effectively controlled the racing. And in the P/1/2/3's it was simply a lot of racing among about ten guys, the leader's team with about four of those ten.

My race was not noteworthy. After holding the tent corner, I didn't have very much time to dress. No heat rub, no drinking, no helmet cam, no last minute PowerGels. Just dress, tape number on jacket, and go. The field was already lined up well before I was finished dressing so the officials made the poor riders wait while they droned on about stuff - rain probably. When I finally showed up the race started. One guy stated the obvious - "So that's why we've been waiting here so long!" Sorry about that guys. I was offered a leadout but when I realized that all the GC guys were just behind me, I thought I'd just go as hard as I could and let the contenders fight like men. I blew as soon as I went and wasn't much use to anyone.

Like the 3/4 race, the races were shortened and done on a lap basis, not time plus laps. Perhaps we'll do this from now on (and also have published start times). It seemed to go a lot smoother. Perhaps the idea that there were all of about 60 racers all day helped contribute to that "smoothness".

Yet with all the weather and the corresponding lack of racers, we paid out some serious cash. I mean serious.

We paid out $1750 for the day's prizes. Okay, minus the Juniors, so make it $1650 or so. $1500 for the overall prizes. $3150 for those not math fluent. And it was all cash mind you. Not a check among those totals. We also gave out Bethel Cycle gift certificates ($500 or something like that). Unlike other weeks, we had no primes. Trophies and medals to follow.

At the end of the day there were some smiling faces. Obviously those included the guys who won their race or the overall or just some money. But it was also the other guys, the ones who got on their bikes and suffered in the lunatic weather.

There's something about racing in this kind of weather. A shared experience. Everyone is cold and miserable together. Teammates seemed to be more supportive (since who would stand in such weather except the most dedicated teammates?). And although they might have questioned whether or not they wanted to race, the racers all made the decision to kit up and line up. During the race there's a lot less yelling when someone gets a bit sketchy - after all, you might be the next one hit by a 40 mph gust. The race becomes a bit more primal. You worry about survival first, racing second.

There's a warmth that wipes away the cold. Perhaps it's cognitive dissonance. Whatever it is, it bonds people together. Perhaps most of the racers will drive home thinking "That was the stupidest race ever." But a bunch of them will add, "and man was that fun!".

You don't go looking for these types of days. But when they come looking for you, embrace them.

It makes life worth living.


Rebecca H. said...

I really admire you and all the other people who raced yesterday! I wimped out and didn't race, but I did go to watch the Cat 5s and cheer my teammates on, and I'm glad I did.

It was a great series -- thanks for all the work you put into it!

Unknown said...

Hey Aki,
great race series and great postings on your blog. Reading your thoughts on our race (the 3/4 field) is always illuminating...and you're right about the racing in the Nor'easter. It was mad (fun!)